|Jackson's love for video games is all too visible|
This is the first of three films Peter Jackson has made to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to Lord of the Rings. An elderly Bilbo Baggins writes to Frodo about the land of Erebor, where the Dwarf King Thror lost his land and prosperity to the dragon Smaug. Bilbo then recalls the earlier years of his life (played by Martin Freeman), where he's timid and lost his sense of adventure. Bilbo's complacency is questioned by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who secretly arranges for a meeting to be held in the hobbit's house. One evening Bilbo is interrupted by thirteen dwarves who invite themselves inside. He's told these dwarves are in search of a home but need a burglar who can accompany them to the mountain where Smaug is and take back their land and treasure. Initially reluctant, Bilbo trails after the unit but this does little to impress Thorin (Richard Armitage), the dwarf leader and grandson of Thror, who doubts the hobbit's commitment.
Even without reading the novel The Hobbit, nothing erases the feeling while watching An Unexpected Journey that this is a deliberately inflated work of fanfare, with eyes drawn acutely towards the box office. Good cinema is defined by economics and how efficiently a story can be told with images. Peter Jackson demonstrated this skill with his Rings trilogy, gracefully balancing multiple narrative threads and characters, and ensuring each one possessed an appropriate amount of emotional weight.
Why then has he chosen to make a soulless, linear action movie, extravagantly scaled, but so insubstantial that it never justifies itself as the start of a trilogy? Penned by no less than four writers, including Jackson, this would have been more satisfying as one film with richer themes and selective action. Instead, a novel of barely 300 pages long is extended to nearly three hours, if only to showcase boring battle scenes and superfluous new technology, falsely touted as innovative.
The excess of Jackson's passion stems from his fascination with geek culture. Since the inception of his career in the 1980s, making low budget horror films, he has been concerned with subjects like the undead and the uncanny. His recent films have been criticised for being overly dependent on special effects. The trajectory of his career, from horror to global blockbusters, is not unlike James Cameron, who is coincidentally using Jackson's special effects studio Weta Digital to work on Avatar 2.
Both men have become transfixed by spectacle, with each of their films more elaborate and technically sophisticated than the last. They seem intent on blurring the lines between video games and cinema, which means more investment into technology and effects, rather than the scripts. Someone distanced from the source material and video game culture might have made The Hobbit less self-indulgent and plodding. A legal battle between Jackson and New Line Cinema meant Guillermo Del Toro was originally meant to direct the film but was eventually replaced.
As it stands, Jackson's love for video games is all too visible here. The script is short on themes, characterisation and subplots. It's overly rigid structure means the film becomes too absorbed in its sets and its environments, instead of the story. Each scene is like a level from a game, designed to showcase a gallery of monsters, which are cogs in the film's tired formula for suspense. Exposition is followed by danger and then an escape route. Press start to begin.
If the desire for a home offers some resemblance of a motive, it's regularly lost in the flurry of the action, most of which is extremely unengaging and lacking in tension. The film's one good scene admittedly adds some suspense and intrigue. It involves the reappearance of the monster Gollum and begins tying threads back to the Rings trilogy. The detail in Gollum's expressions, beautifully captured again by Andy Serkis, is even more incredible than before.
How do scenes like this, as overlong as they are, fare through the introduction of 48 frames per second? The standard frame rate for films has been to use 24 frames per second. The additional number of frames on the screen adds more detail and colour to the images. The trade-off is that it gives the illusion the images are moving much faster, which is very distracting. It's an unnecessary addition so if you must see the film, watch it in 2D.
Will fans enjoy the movie? Undoubtedly, but for most hardcore fans, more is always more. Consider the families who will now be paying for three movies instead of one, as well as the 3D surcharge, and must then wait another two years to finish the story. They're shown a footnote of a narrative here and that's not right.
The Hobbit Production Diary 6: More Location Shooting!
The Hobbit's epic 250-day shoot continues apace, but Peter Jackson & Andy Serkis still have time to show off the majestic climes of New Zealand for us.
The Hobbit Production Diary 5: Location Shooting
Set of The Hobbit, or renaissance fair? You be the judge.
Trailer: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Have you heard of this movie? I'm not sure what it's about. I think it's a documentary about little people in New Zealand.
Behind The Scenes On The Hobbit: Middle-Earth In 3D
Peter Jackson lovingly fondles around three million dollars in cameras in this look at the ongoing filming. But some of them are named for dogs, so I can't blame him.
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